A zoo-rific time for SPS staff

Published 8:10 pm Friday, May 6, 2022

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More than 5,000 Suffolk Public Schools’ staff and family members turned out recently at Norfolk’s Virginia Zoo for a divisionwide staff appreciation day.

The event, held April 23, was months in the making and was set up to show appreciation for staff members and their families as they have worked through the COVID-19 pandemic. Anne McCoy, division supervisor of health and wellness, said about half of the division’s approximately 2,300 employees came out for the event.

McCoy said Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III gave a directive this school year to find ways to engage staff and families in fun activities to show them how much they are appreciated for serving SPS.

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The zoo’s event manager, Melissa Rose, helped McCoy and division staff over the course of several months to put the event together, and more than 80 volunteers from across the division had key roles in bringing the event to fruition.

“I think one of the biggest things that the staff truly enjoyed was the freedom to be able to wander and walk,” McCoy said. “They could talk with their colleagues if they wanted to, but they could also spend time with their families (while) wandering through the zoo, and I think that was one of the biggest pieces that we walk away from, that it’s just that Suffolk Public Schools takes care of their staff, but they also care very much about their families.”

Food and Nutrition Services staff prepared food, including pork barbecue, chicken barbecue, hamburgers, made-from-scratch coleslaw and corn on the cob, and there were vegetarian and gluten-free options also. The division’s transportation staff, including Director of Transportation Kevin Privott and Supervisor of Transportation Beverly Young, also helped in the food preparation.

There was also a talent showcase organized by Supervisor of Fine and Performing Arts Joleen Neighbors and Chris Phillips, the division’s audiovisual and lighting technician, served as DJ for the day. Families also took part in a scavenger hunt across the zoo grounds.

Some also received prizes donated by businesses such as AMF, Jersey Mike’s, Walmart, Amici’s, Panera Bread, Texas Roadhouse on College Drive, the Norfolk Tides, Chick-fil-A, the Outback Steakhouse in the Chesapeake Square shopping center and George’s Steakhouse.

“This was truly a family reunion,” said Jamillah Silver, supervisor of instruction for special education. “Many of us have not had a chance to see one another in person, and it felt amazing to come together.

McCoy said that the division has worked to provide other social and emotional resources for staff throughout the year, including the start-of-the-year convocation, adding extra days to the employee assistance program for staff to use, its employee-wellness program which provides access to virtual YMCA workouts and it provided other activities for staff to take part. Teachers also had 13 half-day planning days on Wednesdays throughout the school year, and building administrators were directed to find ways to show appreciation for staff.

Gordon announced during the event that the division would hold another staff event in spring 2023.

McCoy said she appreciated the positive feedback the event generated, seeing staff members and their families having a great time, some mentioning that they hadn’t been a part of something like it.

“That’s why we’re driven to help our staff,” McCoy said. “What can we do to be as supportive as possible for our very, very hard-working staff?”